The 2020 season was Sebas Mendez’s second with Orlando City after signing on Dec. 28, 2018 from Independiente del Valle in Ecuador. The Lions reportedly beat both Sao Paulo FC and Atletico Paranaense to his signature and it is appearing to pay off thus far. Mendez once again showed how physically capable he is in the middle of the park and how robust he can be for the Lions.
While a good chunk of the 23-year-old’s appearances were off of the bench and he played 727 minutes fewer than last season, albeit in a shorter season, the question still remains: did he utilize his game time well in his second season with Orlando City?
As mentioned above, Mendez played far less this season for Orlando City than he did in 2019, although that was due in large part to the shortened season. Still, Mendez managed 19 appearances in the team’s 23 regular-season matches, but only 11 of those were starts, for a total of 1,087 minutes. The Ecuadorian did not have any game time in the playoffs due to testing positive for COVID-19 after returning from international duty.
Once again, Mendez did not score any goals or have any assists during the regular season. Out of 17 shots, only three were on target. However, one attacking stat that was quite impressive was his pass completion rate, which was a solid 90.5%.
On the defensive side, he boasted numbers that exemplify his aggression. He broke teams’ attacks by having an average 2.4 tackles, 0.6 interceptions, 0.4 clearances and 0.3 blocks per game. He received four yellow cards — including a second yellow to earn a sending off at Dallas — and committed 32 fouls, just eight fewer than his 40 last season. It seems as though his job is to be a bull in a china shop by discombobulating opposition and attacking plays with transitional fouls.
Additionally, Mendez played in all four of Orlando City’s MLS is Back Tournament knockout stage games in place of Junior Urso, starting all four for a total of 328 minutes. He didn’t score but he provided an assist against Minnesota United in the 3-1 win on Aug. 6 that pushed Orlando City into the championship match. He attempted eight shots in those four games, getting one on frame, and committed 10 fouls while drawing five from the opposition.
Mendez’s best match of the season may have come in the MLS is Back Tournament semifinal against Minnesota United. In addition to assisting on a Nani goal for his lone assist of 2020, Mendez nearly set up another goal and he got on the ball more than anyone else on the team. He passed at a 90% clip and created two scoring chances. If not for two goals and an assist by Nani in this game, Mendez might have earned Man of the Match honors.
Orlando’s engine was at full steam in this game as Mendez led the team with 59 passes and had 68 touches — behind only Nani and Moutinho. Yes, Nani deserves the bulk of the credit for the second goal, but it was Mendez who reacted quickly to find Nani across the field, and deliver a ball fast enough and accurate enough to really earn that assist. He almost had a second assist but Ruan couldn’t convert his drilled cross. If he continues to do well with the ball at his feet like last night, then the game will really open up for the Lions.
Here’s a clip of Mendez picking out Nani across the field and delivering an accurate ball that led to the captain’s golazo:
The Ecuadorian’s performance helped Orlando reach its first ever final since joining MLS.
2020 Final Grade
The 23-year-old workhorse earned a respectable rating of 6 from The Mane Land staff. While Mendez did not quite kick on and improve on last season, receiving the exact same grade this year as he did last, he did not do himself any disservices either. With quality midfield players ahead of him in the pecking order such as Urso, Uri Rosell and Mauricio Pereyra, Mendez still managed a decent amount of minutes. In the 19 outings, he mastered a job that the aforementioned trio do not specialize in by being an utter nuisance to the opposition.
All in all, I think Mendez did exactly what was expected of him this season and I hope that he does the same in next year’s campaign. The role in which he specializes in is far from a glamorous one, however he is well-equipped and good at it and it is great to have an individual like him in the squad. Given the fact that Mendez remains under contract, it appears as if he will be staying at the club for next season. Even if he was not under contract, I believe Orlando City would have done all it could to keep hold of him as he is a valuable asset that the side reportedly already rejected a lucrative offer for in the past.
With the midfield of Urso, Pereyra, and Rosell, along with the tenacious terrier that is Mendez just behind them metaphorically and literally, Oscar Pareja has an incredibly well-balanced midfield at his disposal. Mendez is just the player you want as an option and he is so well-suited to his role as an engine on the team. Hopefully the belligerent, Ecuadorian machine can improve his game, eliminate some of the mistakes in his own defensive half, and earn a higher grade next season.